Nature asserted herself, and, despite his condition, Crispin slept. Kenneth sat huddled on his chair, and in awe and amazement he listened to his companion's regular breathing. He had not Galliard's nerves nor Galliard's indifference to death, so that neither could he follow his example, nor yet so much as realize how one should slumber upon the very brink of eternity.

For a moment his wonder stood perilously near to admiration; then his religious training swayed him, and his righteousness almost drew from him a contempt of this man's apathy. There was much of the Pharisee's attitude towards the publican in his mood.

Anon that regular breathing grew irritating to him; it drew so marked a contrast 'twixt Crispin's frame of mind and his own. Whilst Crispin had related his story, the interest it awakened had served to banish the spectre of fear which the thought of the morrow conjured up. Now that Crispin was silent and asleep, that spectre returned, and the lad grew numb and sick with the horror of his position.

Thought followed thought as he sat huddled there with sunken head and hands clasped tight between his knees, and they were mostly of his dull uneventful days in Scotland, and ever and anon of Cynthia, his beloved. Would she hear of his end? Would she weep for him?—as though it mattered! And every train of thought that he embarked upon brought him to the same issue—to-morrow! Shuddering he would clench his hands still tighter, and the perspiration would stand' out in beads upon his callow brow.

At length he flung himself upon his knees to address not so much a prayer as a maudlin grievance to his Creator. He felt himself a craven—doubly so by virtue of the peaceful breathing of that sinner he despised—and he told himself that it was not in fear a gentleman should meet his end.

“But I shall be brave to-morrow. I shall be brave,” he muttered, and knew not that it was vanity begat the thought, and vanity that might uphold him on the morrow when there were others by, however broken might be his spirit now.

Meanwhile Crispin slept. When he awakened the light of a lanthorn was on his face, and holding it stood beside him a tall black figure in a cloak and a slouched hat whose broad brim left the features unrevealed.

Still half asleep, and blinking like an owl, he sat up.

“I have always held burnt sack to be well enough, but—”

He stopped short, fully awake at last, and, suddenly remembering his condition and thinking they were come for him, he drew a sharp breath and in a voice as indifferent as he could make it:

“What's o'clock?” he asked.

“Past midnight, miserable wretch,” was the answer delivered in a deep droning voice. “Hast entered upon thy last day of life—a day whose sun thou'lt never see. But five hours more are left thee.”

“And it is to tell me this that you have awakened me?” demanded Galliard in such a voice that he of the cloak recoiled a step, as if he thought a blow must follow. “Out on you for an unmannerly cur to break upon a gentleman's repose.”

“I come,” returned the other in his droning voice, “to call upon thee to repent.”

“Plague me not,” answered Crispin, with a yawn. “I would sleep.”

“Soundly enough shalt thou sleep in a few hours' time. Bethink thee, miserable sinner, of thy soul.”

“Sir,” cried the Tavern Knight, “I am a man of marvellous short endurance. But mark you this your ways to heaven are not my ways. Indeed, if heaven be peopled by such croaking things as you, I shall be thankful to escape it. So go, my friend, ere I become discourteous.”

The minister stood in silence for a moment; then setting his lanthorn upon the table, he raised his hands and eyes towards the low ceiling of the chamber.

“Vouchsafe, O Lord,” he prayed, “to touch yet the callous heart of this obdurate, incorrigible sinner, this wicked, perjured and blasphemous malignant, whose—”

He got no further. Crispin was upon his feet, his harsh countenance thrust into the very face of the minister; his eyes ablaze.

“Out!” he thundered, pointing to the door. “Out! Begone! I would not be guilty at the end of my life of striking a man in petticoats. But go whilst I can bethink me of it! Go—take your prayers to hell.”

The minister fell back before that blaze of passion. For a second he appeared to hesitate, then he turned towards Kenneth, who stood behind in silence. But the lad's Presbyterian rearing had taught him to hate a sectarian as he would a papist or as he would the devil, and he did no more than echo Galliard's words—though in a gentler key.

“I pray you go,” he said. “But if you would perform an act of charity, leave your lanthorn. It will be dark enough hereafter.”

The minister looked keenly at the boy, and won over by the humility of his tone, he set the lanthorn on the table. Then moving towards the door, he stopped and addressed himself to Crispin.

“I go since you oppose with violence my ministrations. But I shall pray for you, and I will return anon, when perchance your heart shall be softened by the near imminence of your end.”

“Sir,” quoth Crispin wearily, “you would outtalk a woman.”

“I've done, I've done,” he cried in trepidation, making shift to depart. On the threshold he paused again. “I leave you the lanthorn,” he said. “May it light you to a godlier frame of mind. I shall return at daybreak.” And with that he went.

Crispin yawned noisily when he was gone, and stretched himself. Then pointing to the pallet:

“Come, lad, 'tis your turn,” said he.

Kenneth shivered. “I could not sleep,” he cried. “I could not.”

“As you will.” And shrugging his shoulders, Crispin sat down on the edge of the bed.

“For cold comforters commend me to these cropeared cuckolds,” he grumbled. “They are all thought for a man's soul, but for his body they care nothing. Here am I who for the last ten hours have had neither meat nor drink. Not that I mind the meat so much, but, 'slife, my throat is dry as one of their sermons, and I would cheerfully give four of my five hours of life for a posset of sack. A paltry lot are they, Kenneth, holding that because a man must die at dawn he need not sup to-night. Heigho! Some liar hath said that he who sleeps dines, and if I sleep perchance I shall forget my thirst.”

He stretched himself upon the bed, and presently he slept again.

It was Kenneth who next awakened him. He opened his eyes to find the lad shivering as with an ague. His face was ashen.

“Now, what's amiss? Oddslife, what ails you?” he cried.

“Is there no way, Sir Crispin? Is there naught you can do?” wailed the youth.

Instantly Galliard sat up.

“Poor lad, does the thought of the rope affright you?”

Kenneth bowed his head in silence.

“Tis a scurvy death, I own. Look you, Kenneth, there is a dagger in my boot. If you would rather have cold steel, 'tis done. It is the last service I may render you, and I'll be as gentle as a mistress. Just there, over the heart, and you'll know no more until you are in Paradise.”

Turning down the leather of his right boot, he thrust his hand down the side of his leg. But Kenneth sprang back with a cry.

“No, no,” he cried, covering his face with his hands. “Not that! You don't understand. It is death itself I would cheat. What odds to exchange one form for another? Is there no way out of this? Is there no way, Sir Crispin?” he demanded with clenched hands.

“The approach of death makes you maudlin, sir,” quoth the other, in whom this pitiful show of fear produced a profound disgust. “Is there no way; say you? There is the window, but 'tis seventy feet above the river; and there is the door, but it is locked, and there is a sentry on the other side.”

“I might have known it. I might have known that you would mock me. What is death to you, to whom life offers nothing? For you the prospect of it has no terrors. But for me—bethink you, sir, I am scarce eighteen years of age,” he added brokenly, “and life was full of promise for me. O God, pity me!”

“True, lad, true,” the knight returned in softened tones. “I had forgotten that death is not to you the blessed release that it is to me. And yet, and yet,” he mused, “do I not die leaving a task unfulfilled—a task of vengeance? And by my soul, I know no greater spur to make a man cling to life. Ah,” he sighed wistfully, “if indeed I could find a way.”

“Think, Sir Crispin, think,” cried the boy feverishly.

“To what purpose? There is the window. But even if the bars were moved, which I see no manner of accomplishing, the drop to the river is seventy feet at least. I measured it with my eyes when first we entered here. We have no rope. Your cloak rent in two and the pieces tied together would scarce yield us ten feet. Would you care to jump the remaining sixty?”

At the very thought of it the lad trembled, noting which Sir Crispin laughed softly.

“There. And yet, boy, it would be taking a risk which if successful would mean life—if otherwise, a speedier end than even the rope will afford you. Oddslife,” he cried, suddenly springing to his feet, and seizing the lanthorn. “Let us look at these bars.”

He stepped across to the window, and held the light so that its rays fell full upon the base of the vertical iron that barred the square.

“It is much worn by rust, Kenneth,” he muttered. “The removal of this single piece of iron,” and he touched the lower arm of the cross, “should afford us passage. Who knows? Hum!”

He walked back to the table and set the lanthorn down. In a tremble, Kenneth watched his every movement, but spoke no word.

“He who throws a main,” said Galliard, “must set a stake upon the board. I set my life—a stake that is already forfeit—and I throw for liberty. If I win, I win all; if I lose, I lose naught. 'Slife, I have thrown many a main with Fate, but never one wherein the odds were more generous. Come, Kenneth, it is the only way, and we will attempt it if we can but move the bar.”

“You mean to leap?” gasped the lad.

“Into the river. It is the only way.”

“O God, I dare not. It is a fearsome drop.”

“Longer, I confess, than they'll give you in an hour's time, if you remain; but it may lead elsewhere.”

The boy's mouth was parched. His eyes burned in their sockets, and yet his limbs shook with cold—but not the cold of that September night.

“I'll try it,” he muttered with a gulp. Then suddenly clutching Galliard's arm, he pointed to the window.

“What ails you now?” quoth Crispin testily.

“The dawn, Sir Crispin. The dawn.”

Crispin looked, and there, like a gash in the blackness of the heavens, he beheld a streak of grey.

“Quick, Sir Crispin; there is no time to lose. The minister said he would return at daybreak.”

“Let him come,” answered Galliard grimly, as he moved towards the casement.

He gripped the lower bar with his lean, sinewy hands, and setting his knee against the masonry beneath it, he exerted the whole of his huge strength—that awful strength acquired during those years of toil as a galley-slave, which even his debaucheries had not undermined. He felt his sinews straining until it seemed that they must crack; the sweat stood out upon his brow; his breathing grew stertorous.

“It gives,” he panted at last. “It gives.”

He paused in his efforts, and withdrew his hands.

“I must breathe a while. One other effort such as that, and it is done. 'Fore George,” he laughed, “it is the first time water has stood my friend, for the rains have sadly rusted that iron.”

Without, their sentry was pacing before the door; his steps came nearer, passed, and receded; turned, came nigh again, and again passed on. As once more they grew faint, Crispin seized the bar and renewed his attempt. This time it was easier. Gradually it ceded to the strain Galliard set upon it.

Nearer came the sentry's footsteps, but they went unheeded by him who toiled, and by him who watched with bated breath and beating heart. He felt it giving—giving—giving. Crack!

With a report that rang through the room like a pistol shot, it broke off in its socket. Both men caught their breath, and stood for a second crouching, with straining ears. The sentry had stopped at their door.

Galliard was a man of quick action, swift to think, and as swift to execute the thought. To thrust Kenneth into a corner, to extinguish the light, and to fling himself upon the bed was all the work of an instant.

The key grated in the lock, and Crispin answered it with a resounding snore. The door opened, and on the threshold stood the Roundhead trooper, holding aloft a lanthorn whose rays were flashed back by his polished cuirass. He beheld Crispin on the bed with closed eyes and open mouth, and he heard his reassuring and melodious snore. He saw Kenneth seated peacefully upon the floor, with his back against the wall, and for a moment he was puzzled.

“Heard you aught?” he asked.

“Aye,” answered Kenneth, in a strangled voice, “I heard something like a shot out there.”

The gesture with which he accompanied the words was fatal. Instinctively he had jerked his thumb towards the window, thereby drawing the soldier's eyes in that direction. The fellow's glance fell upon the twisted bar, and a sharp exclamation of surprise escaped him.

Had he been aught but a fool he must have guessed at once how it came so, and having guessed it, he must have thought twice ere he ventured within reach of a man who could so handle iron. But he was a slow-reasoning clod, and so far, thought had not yet taken the place of surprise. He stepped into, the chamber and across to the window, that he might more closely view that broken bar.

With eyes that were full of terror and despair, Kenneth watched him; their last hope had failed them. Then, as he looked, it seemed to him that in one great leap from his recumbent position on the bed, Crispin had fallen upon the soldier.

The lanthorn was dashed from the fellow's hand, and rolled to Kenneth's feet. The fellow had begun' a cry, which broke off suddenly into a gurgle as Galliard's fingers closed about his windpipe. He was a big fellow, and in his mad struggles he carried: Crispin hither and thither about the room. Together: they hurtled against the table, which would have: gone crashing over had not Kenneth caught it and drawn it softly to the wall.

Both men were now upon the bed. Crispin had guessed the soldier's intent to fling himself upon the ground so that the ring of his armour might be heard, and perchance bring others to his aid. To avoid this, Galliard had swung him towards the bed, and hurled him on to it. There he pinned him with his knee, and with his fingers he gripped the Roundhead's throat, pressing the apple inwards with his thumb.

“The door, Kenneth!” he commanded, in a whisper. “Close the door!”

Vain were the trooper's struggles to free himself from that throttling grip. Already his efforts grew his face was purple; his veins stood out in ropes upon his brow till they seemed upon the point of bursting; his eyes protruded like a lobster's and there was a horrible grin upon his mouth; still his heels beat the bed, and still he struggled. With his fingers he plucked madly at the throttling hands on his neck, and tore at them with his nails until the blood streamed from them. Still Galliard held him firmly, and with a smile—a diabolical smile it seemed to the poor, half-strangled wretch—he gazed upon his choking victim.

“Someone comes!” gasped Kenneth suddenly. “Someone comes, Sir Crispin!” he repeated, shaking his hands in a frenzy.

Galliard listened. Steps were approaching. The soldier heard them also, and renewed his efforts. Then Crispin spoke.

“Why stand you there like a fool?” he growled. “Quench the light—stay, we may want it! Cast your cloak over it! Quick, man, quick!”

The steps came nearer. The lad had obeyed him, and they were in darkness.

“Stand by the door,” whispered Crispin. “Fall upon him as he enters, and see that no cry escapes him. Take him by the throat, and as you love your life, do not let him get away.”

The footsteps halted. Kenneth crawled softly to his post. The soldier's struggles grew of a sudden still, and Crispin released his throat at last. Then calmly drawing the fellow's dagger, he felt for the straps of his cuirass, and these he proceeded to cut. As he did so the door was opened.

By the light of the lamp burning in the passage they beheld silhouetted upon the threshold a black figure crowned by a steeple hat. Then the droning voice of the Puritan minister greeted them.

“Your hour is at hand!” he announced.

“Is it time?” asked Galliard from the bed. And as he put the question he softly thrust aside the trooper's breastplate, and set his hand to the fellow's heart. It still beat faintly.

“In another hour they will come for you,” answered the minister. And Crispin marvelled anxiously what Kenneth was about. “Repent then, miserable sinners, whilst yet—”

He broke off abruptly, awaking out of his religious zeal to a sense of strangeness at the darkness and the absence of the sentry, which hitherto he had not remarked.

“What hath—” he began. Then Galliard heard a gasp, followed by the noise of a fall, and two struggling men came rolling across the chamber floor.

“Bravely done, boy!” he cried, almost mirthfully. “Cling to him, Kenneth; cling to him a second yet!”

He leapt from the bed, and guided by the faint light coming through the door, he sprang across the intervening space and softly closed it. Then he groped his way along the wall to the spot where he had seen the lanthorn stand when Kenneth had flung his cloak over it. As he went, the two striving men came up against him.

“Hold fast, lad,” he cried, encouraging Kenneth, “hold him yet a moment, and I will relieve you!”

He reached the lanthorn at last, and pulling aside the cloak, he lifted the light and set it upon the table.

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